Leah Greenblatt is a Critic at Large for Entertainment Weekly. She can be found on Twitter @Leahbats
RaveEntertainment WeeklyEven though it’s 713 pages, it often recalls some of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s best short stories, including 'Brokeback Mountain,' given her ability to infuse loss and heartbreak and beauty into the sparsest of sentences ... Pages melt away as readers zoom through the decades. Proulx’s story is bigger than any one man, one death, or even one culture: It’s about the effect civilization and society have had on the land. In her magical way, Proulx leaves the reader with an impression of not only a collection of people, but our people and the country that shaped us as we shaped it. This is Proulx at the height of her powers as an irreplaceable American voice.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAn endless roundelay of rivalries and crushes—she is enthralled by both a taciturn tattooed bartender named Jake and his best friend, Simone, a sophisticated older server—propel the story forward, though those intrigues ultimately resonate less than Tess’ sensual awakening to food: creamy, ash-dusted cheeses; anchovies drenched in olive oil; dense, fleshy figs like 'a slap from another sun-soaked world.' That’s the book’s true romance—the heady first taste of self-discovery, bitter and salty and sweet.
Imagine Me GoneAdam Haslett
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...Michael is one of five narrators in Gone and by far the book’s most vivid. If other characters recede in his wake, it also feels true to the impact of mental illness, and Haslett’s writing is at its best when he illuminates not just madness but what it means to witness it, too.
How to Be a Person in the WorldHeather Havrilesky
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAt her best, [Havrilesky] is part Buddha and part Amy Schumer: wise, whip-smart, and profanely funny. Less dynamic, though, are Polly’s askers; overwhelmingly young creative types living in large coastal cities and struggling with romantic self-doubt or career ennui, they mostly seem interested in How to Solve a First-World Problem.
Truly Madly GuiltyLiane Moriarty
MixedEntertainment Weekly[Moriarty] loves to tease out a mystery, and it takes Truly nearly 300 pages to arrive at its relentlessly foreshadowed central event ... The book devotes so much energy to aftermath before reaching its big reveal that it begins to feel like a very special, very frustrating episode of CSI: BBQ. The last twist, though, is nearly worth the wait, and what sets Moriarty’s writing apart in the genre generally dismissed as chick lit has as much to do with her canny insights into human nature as her clever plotting.
We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American a South African Township and the Search for Truth and ReconciliationJustine van der Leun
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyVan der Leun obsessively immerses herself in the case, combing court transcripts and police records, tracking down witnesses and friends and far-flung associates. Of the dozens of sources she finds, she grows especially close to convict-turned-advocate Easy Nofemela, who emerges as one of the most compelling figures in a story steeped in extraordinary characters and circumstances. And We Are Not Such Things—the title is taken from Nofemela’s pained response to a prosecutor’s portrayal of him and his codefendants as 'sharks smelling blood'—is an extraordinary book, if sometimes also an exhausting one: a dense and nuanced portrait of a country whose confounding, convoluted past is never quite history.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
PositiveEntertainment Weekly[Cora's] America is a still-new nation full of memorable color and characters, but it’s also raw and vicious, a place that punishes the best intentions on a whim and rewards the ruthless over and over again. While supporting players come and go, Cora remains at the center of it all yet just out of reach—less the heroine of her own story than a witness to outrageous, extraordinary history.
The After PartyAnton DiSclafani
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyDiSclafani gorgeously evokes Party’s midcentury setting, and the narrative unfolds much more elegantly than her dense 2013 best-seller, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. We learn Joan’s secret eventually, but for the reader she remains what she’s always been to Cece: a siren and a cipher.
Modern LoversEmma Straub
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyVarious discoveries, betrayals, and romantic complications follow, though nothing in Modern’s meandering plot moves with any particular urgency. Instead, Straub lets her characters fall apart and come together in their own messy, refreshingly human ways—always older, sometimes wiser, but never quite done coming of age.
A Manual for Cleaning WomenLucia Berlin
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLife (and a long battle with alcohol) prevented her from publishing regularly, but it’s all here in 43 autobiographical stories that read like one long, fascinating conversation full of switchbacks and revelations. Every detox ward, dingy Laundromat, and sunbaked Mexican palapa spills across the page in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you’ll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again.
Fortune SmilesAdam Johnson
RaveEntertainment WeeklyFortune’s six stories are mostly grounded in more familiar settings, but strangeness thrums beneath them all. The characters—a UPS driver in post-Katrina Louisiana, a cancer patient, a self-loathing pedophile, a mismatched pair of Korean defectors, the former warden of a Stasi prison—are all displaced in some way, exiled or lost or just gone astray. The best story may be the first: 'Nirvana,' a beautifully calibrated near-future fable about a Silicon Valley programmer who reanimates an assassinated president to help him cope with the illness of his young wife. But every one carves out its own little corner of weird, indelible humanity.
Lab GirlHope Jahren
PositiveEntertainment Weekly[C]entral to the book is [Jahren's] friendship with an eccentric colleague named Bill who becomes her fellow plant-obsessive, platonic soul mate, and (sometimes literal) partner in crime. Her accounts of their ongoing dialogues can feel more clumsy than profound, but Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.
The Last Painting of Sara De VosDominic Smith
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMarty and Ellie’s subsequent entanglement—interwoven with vivid glimpses into the life of the enigmatic Dutchwoman whose work gives The Last Painting of Sara de Vos its muse—is the narrative’s heart. And if the book’s more current segments don’t resonate quite as fully as the ones set earlier, it mostly feels like a testament to Smith’s singular gift for conjuring distant histories. In his hands, the damp cobblestones and canals of 1600s Holland and the shabby gentility of Eisenhower-era New York feel as real and tactile and tinged with magic as de Vos’ indelible brushstrokes.
The NestCynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIt’s easy to see why Sweeney’s debut earned her a seven-figure advance and early praise from fans including Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing is like really good dark chocolate: sharper and more bittersweet than the cheap stuff, but also too delicious not to finish in one sitting.
The Wangs vs. the WorldJade Chang
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyChang packs her pages nearly as tightly as the Mercedes, piling on wry observations of everything from Asian immigrant culture and faded Southern gentry to fashion-blog etiquette and the boho bourgeoisie’s obsession with authenticity. If it all feels a little overstuffed, her breezy tangents and keen character sketches are also half the fun, and each Wang comes alive in their own memorable, messily human ways ... [Wang's] brash, bighearted debut smartly recasts what the definition of a quintessentially American story can be in 2016.
The WidowFiona Barton
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...a taut reconstruction of a crime and a ruthless examination of marriage, told from the multiple viewpoints of not-always-reliable narrators ... The Widow is the kind of book you can zoom through on a long flight or a lazy Sunday: a smartly crafted, compulsively readable tale about the lies people tell each other, and themselves, when the truth is the last thing they really want to know.
The VegetarianHan Kang
RaveEntertainment Weekly...in dreamlike passages punctuated by bursts of startling physical and sexual violence, Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation.
The Queen of the NightAlexander Chee
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAlexander Chee details Queen’s reams of source material in the endnotes, and the richness of his research is evident on every page ... If the novel has a real flaw, it’s that Lilliet’s interior world never comes quite as alive as the three-dimensional one she moves through.
The Portable VeblenElizabeth McKenzie
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMcKenzie has a pitch-perfect ear for a certain kind of California kookery, and even when she veers twee (your tolerance for anthropomorphized rodents may be tested), it’s hard not to be charmed by Veblen’s whimsy.
Dear Mr. YouMary Louise Parker
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWhat does a busy, successful actress with half an EGOT and two young children at home do for fun? Apparently she writes a book—a really good one, full of funny, poignant, sometimes surreal missives to men she has known.
Rosalie LightningTom Hart
RaveEtertainment WeeklyHart’s graphic memoir is his attempt to process the crushing pain of his daughter’s loss, and it’s as harrowing and profound as any literary novel. In scratchy black-and-white panels, he traces the strange parabola of grief: 'You’re walking and falling. You’re hurtling and collapsing. You’re here and not here.'
Fates and FuriesLauren Groff
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyGroff is a fantastically vivid writer, though baroqueness can get the best of her, and her protagonists’ flowery self-regard wears thin. Still, it’s hard to stop reading. Lotto and Mathilde may be exhausting, but they’re also almost as fascinating as they think they are.
The Improbability of LoveHannah Rothschild
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyRothschild knows her subject firsthand; she comes from one of the world’s wealthiest families and has spent decades moving in the rarefied circles depicted here. That gives the novel its insidery spark and smooths over some of her sloppier narrative tricks.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern GirlCarrie Brownstein
RaveEntertainment Weekly[H]er honesty is disarming, and buoyed by the same dry wit that makes her scenester-lacerating IFC series Portlandia so good. That’s how she artfully manages to transcend the backstage tropes of the rock-bio genre, and why Hunger should become the new handbook for every modern girl (and yes, boys, too) looking for the courage to pursue a life less ordinary.
Another Day in the Death of AmericaGary Younge
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIn thoughtful, evenhanded chapters stacked with footnotes, Younge works methodically to uncover the unique patterns and hypocrisies of his adopted second home. (Though British, he has an American wife and spent a dozen years reporting from the States.) Another Day doesn’t offer solutions, because it can’t; it just makes it impossible not to care.
The GirlsEmma Cline
RaveEntertainment WeeklyEmma Cline’s fierce, gripping debut is much less interested in the stock answers to what motivates a man like Russell or Charles Manson (ego, insanity) than the deeper impulses that tug an ordinary girl like Evie toward that kind of madness—and how she can come so close to breaching it that she still wonders, decades later, at the thinness of the line that held her back, how arbitrary it might be that her hands are clean.
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist SelloutLaura Jane Grace
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyTranny—which pulls heavily from a decade of tour diaries— is actually a traditional rock bio in a lot of ways, full of road-dog debauchery, studio tales, and score-settling with ex-bandmates and managers. The physical transition, which doesn’t come until the last few chapters, feels almost like a postscript, and the prose swings between blistering and banal. But the book is also a powerful, disarmingly honest portrait of becoming.
Innocents and OthersDana Spiotta
MixedEntertainment WeeklyAs a novelist, Spiotta is cool in both senses of the word: Her books, including the prizewinning Stone Arabia and Eat the Document, are praised for their taut modernity and lauded by literary supernovas like Don DeLillo and George Saunders. But she can also be chilly emotionally, and it’s not until late in Innocents’ disjointed narrative that her remove falls away.
Swing TimeZadie Smith
MixedEntertainment WeeklySwing Time doesn’t have the electric jolt of WhiteTeeth’s Technicolor rhythms, but it does offer more insight—an emotional acuity that radiates through a series of small, beautifully crafted revelations. What it can’t do is make the central character come fully alive, or even feel crucial to her own narrative as the story begins to list and wander toward its shaggy end.
Perfect Little WorldKevin Wilson
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWilson’s Perfect Little World finds its bliss in the vast disconnect between people’s best intentions and where they land—and all the spectacular ways they manage to sabotage and misdirect themselves in between ... Though heady concepts of nature and nurture dance around the edges, they never quite penetrate Wilson’s Little World. Instead, his story is like the Project: snug, quirky, and engagingly imperfect.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyHardly a shade of human intrigue—or a pivotal moment in 20th-century history—goes unexplored in Chabon’s vibrant, sprawling latest. Inspired by his grandfather’s deathbed confessions, Moonglow is a feast for fans of the Pulitzer winner’s magical prose but less satisfying for lovers of linear narratives. Following its leaps can feel like trying to reassemble a scattered pack of cards; you’ll find all kinds of aces, but never quite the full deck.
The NIxNathan Hill
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...[a] sad, funny, endlessly inventive debut ... At 600-plus pages, some of those threads inevitably snag or run on too long, but Hill weaves it all into the wild tragicomic tangle of his imagination.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...[a] lyrical, devastating debut ... Toggling between two continents, Gyasi traces black history from the Middle Passage to the Great Migration and beyond, bringing every Asante village, cotton plantation, and coal mine into vivid focus. The rhythm of her streamlined sentences is clipped and clean, with brilliant bursts of primary color ... As each character cedes their allotted chapter to the next, some emotional impact is necessarily lost, but it’s done in service to the larger sweep of the story—and the luminous beauty of Gyasi’s unforgettable telling.
Little DeathsEmma Flint
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyInspired by a real-life case, the outlines of Emma Flint’s debut summon every classic noir chestnut: the vixen, the patsy, the shady detective, the cub reporter determined to set the record straight. Her actors are strictly familiar, and rarely surprising; they come and go and mostly play their parts. The exception is Ruth: In lean, palpable prose (Flint is British, though her New York vernacular never slips), she comes vividly alive—a flawed, complicated woman with thoughts and demons and desires that the prescribed world she lives in offers hardly any framework for, and even less forgiveness. As a whodunit, Little Deaths is standard-issue. As a character study, it’s a killer.
A Book of American MartyrsJoyce Carol Oates
MixedEntertainment Weekly...[a] fierce, provocative, and often maddening novel ... In Martyrs‘ best passages, she is mesmerizing—unleashing feverish streams of prose in great, incantatory swoons and laying her subjects bare without judgment or pity. But her enduring stylistic tics—the circular echoes and repetitions, the heavy italics for emphasis, the often 'arbitrary' scattering of 'quotation marks'—also begin to wear after nearly 750 dense, relentless pages ... One of Oates’ greatest gifts is her ability to extract universal truths and resonance from even the thorniest subjects. So when the book’s final paragraphs offer sudden, sunny resolution, it feels not just incongruous but strangely unsatisfying: a firebomb diffused in a wisp of smoke.
The Hearts of MenNickolas Butler
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyButler captures the rites and rhythms of young manhood in intimate, clear-eyed detail, shifting nimbly between multiple perspectives, several generations, and two wars overseas. If a sudden swerve into melodrama in the final pages feels oddly off-key, it’s not enough to derail the story or diminish the impact of this distinctly American tale: a potent exploration of friendship, betrayal, and all the markers of masculinity that can’t be measured by badges and trust falls.
Behold the DreamersImbolo Mbue
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIf the book ultimately falls short of the emotional impact its sweeping premise and seven-figure advance portend, it’s still a fresh, engaging entry in the eternally evolving narrative of what it means to be an American—and how human beings, not laws or dogma, define liberty.
Here Comes the SunNicole Dennis-Benn
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...[a] harshly beautiful debut ... In saturated paragraphs and rich patois, Sun lays out the stark realities of an island whose entire economy relies on natural beauty, cheap labor, and limited resources—and explores what it means to live in a place where, as one character says, 'nobody love a black girl. Not even harself.'
Dear Friend from My Life I Write to You in Your LifeYiyun Li
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyEvery writer is a reader first, and Dear Friend is Li’s haunted, luminous love letter to the words that shaped her—from the flowery Chinese verse of her youth to the brilliant parade of poets, novelists, and Danish existentialists who helped see her through multiple hospitalizations for depression. (The heart wants what it wants; sometimes all it can stand is Kierkegaard.) Her own prose is both lovely and opaque, fitfully illuminating a radiant landscape of the personal and profound.
Exit WestMohsin Hamid
RaveEntertainment WeeklyNadia and Saeed take the chance, and begin a new kind of adventure—one that Hamid unfurls in deceptively simple prose, as spare and dreamlike as a fable. But Exit West’s mystical spin isn’t a gloss on geopolitical reality; nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gun smoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of the book is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.
Big Little LiesLiane Moriarty
RaveEntertainment WeeklyMoriarty is a fantastically nimble writer, so sure-footed that the book leaps between dark and light seamlessly; even the big reveal in the final pages feels earned and genuinely shocking … Praise for Moriarty seems to come with a faintly condescending asterisk, probably because her books do, in the broadest sense, fit the label ‘chick lit.’ But more than anything she feels like a humanist.
The Rules Do Not ApplyAriel Levy
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAs a journalist, Levy has delved into wild tales of 1970s lesbian separatists, South African marathoners, and modern ayahuasca disciples. In these keenly intimate essays, she turns the lens inward, recounting professional highs and personal lows (the brutal ruin of a marriage, a harrowing miscarriage) with lucid, unflinching immediacy. If Levy comes off as self-lacerating and self-regarding in equal measure, well, you can’t spell memoir without a 'me' and an 'i'…and her 'me' is still more interesting than most.
Lincoln in the BardoGeorge Saunders
RaveEntertainment WeeklySaunders has finally produced his first full length novel — though that word hardly begins to convey the literary wonder contained within its pages, an extraordinary alchemy of free-verse ghost story, tender father-son devotional, and backdoor presidential biography ... Slipping between hallucinatory fragments of dialogue and real historical accounts, Saunders weaves a wild high-wire pastiche. He’s always been a dazzlingly clever voice in fiction, but Bardo is something else: a heartfelt marvel, sad and funny and surreal.
A Little LifeHanya Yanagihara
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyA Little Life is not a little book—at 720 pages it’s a massive, sometimes maddening read—but it is a little bit of a bait and switch: Roughly halfway through, the other characters move to the margins, and Jude’s story takes over. Yanagihara pulls back the black curtain of his childhood slowly and with great care; by the time every dark corner is illuminated, it’s devastating. But she begins to lean too hard on his tragedy and let Life’s other compelling narratives slip away ... It’s a shame to say that the final chapters sometimes feel like a slog when the book has so much richness in it—great big passages of beautiful prose, unforgettable characters, and shrewd insights into art and ambition and friendship and forgiveness. Flaws and all, it’s still a wonderful Life.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...one of the year’s most winningly original debuts ... Nearly every page is marked by some kind of breezy scientific anecdote or aside — pithy, casually brilliant ruminations on everything from meiosis and mitochondria to what makes rockets fly. That it’s all so accessible and organic to the story is one of the book’s most consistent pleasures. So is the texture and tone of Wang’s language, a voice so fresh and intimate and mordantly funny that she feels less like fiction than a friend you’ve known forever — even if she hasn’t met you yet.
The Husband's SecretLiane Moriarty
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe Husband’s Secret is a sharp, thoughtful read — a sneaky sort of wolf in chick-lit clothing...Liane Moriarty weaves Cecilia’s story in with those of two other women in crisis … But Secret isn’t all Down Under noir, either; even as these three women’s lives are blown apart, they still have jobs and families and mostly intact senses of humor, and they carry on … Moriarty ultimately can’t resist wrapping up her story lines with a bow that will probably feel too shiny and pink-petal neat for some. But you don’t need a husband or a secret to feel for her characters’ very real moral quandaries, and to want that shiny bow for them a little bit, too.
Into the WaterPaula Hawkins
MixedEntertainment WeeklyThe book’s piled-on storylines lack the feverish, almost subdermal intimacy of Train, and Hawkins’ pulp psychology has only the soggiest sort of logic. Still, buried in her humid narrative is an intriguing pop-feminist tale of small-town hypocrisy, sexual politics, and wrongs that won’t rinse clean.
American WarOmar El Akkad
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyEl Akkad, a Cairo-born journalist, has an innate (and depressingly timely) feel for the textural details of dystopia; if only his grim near-future fantasy didn’t feel so much like a crystal ball.
Do Not Become AlarmedMaile Meloy
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyBecause Meloy follows every character, it’s not a mystery where they’ve gone, though knowing hardly alleviates the tension. Alarmed’s sensational plot turns sometimes veer toward the innocents-in-peril machinations of a Lifetime movie, but Meloy has a keenly intuitive ear for family dynamics, first-world privilege, and all the ways that human nature can adapt to the unthinkable.
The ChildFiona Barton
MixedEntertainment WeeklyBarton‘s unsettling 2016 best-seller The Widow artfully toed the line between two high paradigms of British mystery: the cozy-crumpet kind, all village intrigue and old-timey secrets, and the Ripper-style savagery of much darker crimes. Her Child, released a scant 16 months later, does the same (and returns several characters, including Kate), though its impact is diminished some by conventional prose and plotting—an enigma that reads less like a true riddle than a slow-burn portrait of loss and survival wrapped, like that small body, in well-worn words.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyRoxane Gay
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyHunger wears its identity politics—fat (the term she prefers), female, Haitian-American, queer—proudly, and Gay is a fierce, if not always focused, critic of the casual cruelties and willful ignorance obesity still elicits. Her writing can feel circular and sometimes contradictory, but the book’s short, sharp chapters come alive in vivid personal anecdotes ... And on nearly every page, Gay’s raw, powerful prose plants a flag, facing down decades of shame and self-loathing by reclaiming the body she never should have had to lose.
Life in Code: A Personal History of TechnologyEllen Ullman
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLife in Code is a consummate insider’s take, rich with local color and anecdotes ... Ullman has a pure passion for computing that doesn’t stop her from recognizing all the ways it can isolate and intimidate — or how unconscious bias works like a sort of snow blindness on the striving (and yes, still overwhelmingly white and male) dreamers who would call themselves disrupters. Like all great writers, she finds the universal in the specific, mixing memoir with industry gossip (cameos by Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a wry Microsoft dig) and ancillary tales of house cats, dairy farmers, and Julia Child. Code is illuminating and unfailingly clever, but above all it’s a deeply human book: urgent, eloquent, and heartfelt.
Sing Unburied SingJesmyn Ward
RaveEntertainment Weekly...the book’s Southern gothic aura recalls the dense, head-spinning prose of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. But the voice is entirely Ward’s own, a voluptuous magical realism that takes root in the darkest corners of human behavior ... Ward has emerged as one of the most searing and singularly gifted writers working today. Absorbing the harsh beauty of her writing isn’t easy; reading Sing sometimes feels like staring into the sun. But she also makes it impossible to turn away.
Made for LoveAlissa Nutting
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMade for Love doesn’t so much unfold as spill out, a crackpot piñata of sex dolls, dolphin coitus, and droll postmillennial satire. Nutting’s surreal style is both manic and tender; her characters — the hapless Hazel, her coolly malevolent ex, a leathery, nippleless outlaw named Liver — read like demented refugees from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, dragged into the 21st century and deep-fried in Florida sunshine. But they’re endearingly human too: kooks and misfits who fail at love over and over, and still, against all evidence, try again.
See What I Have DoneSarah Schmidt
RaveEntertainment WeeklySee is the product of 11 years of that obsession, and it’s a prickly, unsettling wonder: a story so tactile and feverishly surreal it feels like a sort of reverse haunting ... The table of misery is set, but is there motivation enough for murder? It would spoil Schmidt’s literary game to say too much. What she does do, in dense, swooning paragraphs, is build an indelible mood ... Schmidt’s style has its quirks. She drops definite articles, repeats phrases like incantations, and has a habit of turning unlikely nouns (termite, critter) into verbs. The vast gaps in her characters’ education and experience somehow still allow them to share the same distinctive voice. But her protagonist comes more fully alive than almost any character in recent memory, and the final pages are a wild, mind-bending revelation.
Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLittle Fires echoes several themes from Ng’s lauded 2014 best-seller, Everything I Never Told You, tracing the fault lines of race, class, and secrecy that run beneath a small Midwestern town. And again, calamity shatters a placid surface on the first page (that title is more than a metaphor). But here, she moves the action up from 1977 to the Clinton-era ’90s and widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where 'things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.' But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down.
My Absolute DarlingGabriel Tallent
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...there’s no doubt that Gabriel Tallent is a phenomenally gifted writer (it will probably be hard for any reviewer to resist a reference to his appropriate surname here). But Darling is also a difficult and often deeply unsettling read, the kind that overused phrases like 'trigger warning' were actually made for ... Tallent’s voice — particularly the way he writes about the natural world, in prose so dense and dazzling it feels almost hallucinogenic — is unforgettable, but it sometimes fails him when it comes to actual human dialogue; his characters tend to speak in either clipped monosyllables or grand peculiar paragraphs, oddly untethered from something they said or did two or 200 pages previously. And the book’s graphic depictions of physical and sexual abuse sometimes exhaust the limits of endurance and credulity. But Darling is a remarkable piece of work by almost any metric: Brutal, lyrical, and, for both better and worse, unforgettable.
The Misfortune of Marion PalmEmily Culliton
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyLike a more acid Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Misfortune gleefully torpedoes the saintly ideal of motherhood; the good ones may go to heaven, but the bad ones go everywhere.